Indy Settles

I’m stuck in flight delay purgatory so I have yet to see a copy of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) agreement but my sincerest thanks to Indy Star music critic Jay Harvey for giving me a call and providing details. He wrote a terrific article that provides an overview of the very unusual compromise that, at the very least, gets the orchestra playing again.

I am particularly curious to see how the February benchmark mini-agreement is structured and what, precisely, happens if the ISO falls short of the fundraising goal. Similarly, it will be interesting to see if they post regular updates to keep supporters notified of fundraising progress.

So until I get back to Chicago, check out Harvey’s article.

UPDATE: For those having trouble accessing the article, Jay Harvey has granted permission for it to be reprinted here (many thanks!).

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is back at work – for now.

By: Jay Harvey; published 9:29 PM, Oct 16, 2012

The music returned to Hilbert Circle Theatre Tuesday after musicians and their employer reached agreement late Monday on two new contracts; one a “bridge” agreement that will carry the organization through Feb 3, 2013, and one that starts the following day, providing that the Indianapolis Symphony Society reaches a lofty fundraising goal. The second contract, if enacted, will expire on Sept. 3, 2017.

It contains the major financial terms that the Indianapolis Symphony Society, which runs the ISO, presented in its last offer, whose Oct. 6 deadline passed without the musicians’ acceptance. The difference is the withdrawal of a contract-termination option that the Society had insisted upon, which musicians saw it as an attempt to aovid fulfilling the full term of the contract. The clause would have allowed either side, with one year’s warning, to void the five-year pact after three years.

The 74 musicians now covered for the next five years finished the last contract with a minimum of $78,000 in annual salary. They are taking an immediate pay cut that sets the minimum at $53,000. That will climb gradually over the contract’s five years, finishing at $70,000. Negotiations on other issues such as pension benefits and personal leave continue.

“Basically they agreed to a little different structure,” is how board of directors president John R. Thornburgh characterized the dropping of the contract-termination option. “And they’ve agreed to be cooperative on a go-forward basis with our fundraising.”

If the ISO fails to raise $5 million by Jan. 31, “both parties would need to sit down and work that out,” Thornburgh added. “I’m confident about our ability to achieve the goal.”

So is Rick Graef, assistant principal French horn and chairman of the musicians’ negotiating committee: “I get the feeling from the board that they respect what we did during the lockout,” he told The Star during a rehearsal break Tuesday.

That included setting up and maintaining their own website, forming an Audience Association of ISO fans and using part of the proceeds from two self-organized concerts to support two local musical organizations, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and the New World Youth Orchestras.

Thornburgh said that community support of the orchestra in the form of petitions, emails and telephone calls applied some pressure to reach agreement with the musicians, who are represented by Local No. 3 of the American Federation of Musicians.

He denied there was any pressure from Mayor Greg Ballard or from the ISO’s top conductors, music director Krzysztof Urbanski and principal pops conductor Jack Everly, to come to an agreement. The stalemate began when the old three-year contract expired Sept. 2 and gained intensity, despite both formal negotiations and consultation with a federal mediator, with a lockout imposed Sept. 10 and the subsequent cancellation of five weeks of concerts.

The new agreements make benefits payments retroactive to Sept. 10, but not salaries. In the first two seasons of the new contract, musicians have agreed to work eight weeks less than they’ve been used to, settling into a 38- to 42-week annual schedule. As a result, the ISO loses its position as one of 18 year-round American orchestras.

Thornburgh claimed no bitterness remains from more than a month of ISO inactivity, during which the musicians staged two rapturously received concerts on their own, one at Second Presbyterian Church Sept. 22 featuring conductor laureate Raymond Leppard and the second Oct. 7 at the Palladium with Andre Watts as piano soloist.

“I’ve had direct discussions with the negotiating committee, and we worked together in a good manner,” Thornburgh said. “From my perspective both parties were doing what they felt was best. It just took a while to get to a good result — back to playing great music for the community.”

Summing up ISO musicians’ reaction to the agreements, Graef said: “There’s some relief — and a few reservations where we’re headed. We’re glad to be back onstage working. We were on the brink of this becoming long-term — it would get uglier going further down that road.”

Beyond the immediate challenge of raising $5 million in new donations, the ISO has set itself the task of raising 50 to 100 percent more than the $6.5 million it normally receives in annual gifts.

“This changes the scope of the search process,” said Drew McManus, a Chicago-based arts consultant who blogs daily about the orchestra business at Adaptistration.

“You have to have a CEO who believes in this process and in the organization’s willingness to go along with it. If I were advising a client (who was a candidate), the first thing I’d warn them against would be, ‘You’ll be used as a scapegoat.’ There’d have to be a decent severance clause and a real sincerity of effort on both sides.”

Thornburgh said the agreements will make the job of president and CEO, being filled in the interim by vice president of finance and strategic planning Jackie Groth, more attractive to the half-dozen candidates who will be interviewed over the next month. A hiring decision could well be made by the end of the year.

“The new CEO’s first job now will not be to negotiate an agreement,” Thornburgh said. “We’d like to have this person in place before further augmenting our team” in an administration that has several key vacancies.

To boost the loyalty of current supporters, Groth announced Tuesday in an email to ISO subscribers that tickets to “Yuletide Celebration” will go on sale today to subscribers and donors only, five days before they’re available to the general public. “Yuletide Celebration” is the ISO’s holiday variety show that plays to about two dozen large audiences every year.

The 2012-13 season will pick up this week with three previously scheduled programs; a Thursday Happy Hour event with Time for Three and Friday and Saturday concerts, conducted by Urbanski, consisting of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Debussy’s “La Mer” and (with guest soprano Twyla Robinson) Messiaen’s “Poemes pour Mi.”

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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